CPE Bach Graun Concertos CPO 5556132

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Cello Concerto in B-flat major, Wq171 (arr. viola by Mathias Rochat)
Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771)
Concertante for Violin and Viola in C minor, Graun WV A:XIII:3
Viola Concerto in E-flat major, Graun WV A:XIII:3
Mathias Rochat (viola)
Stephen Waarts (violin)
Camerata Schweiz / Howard Griffiths
rec. 2022, Church Oberstrass, Zurich
cpo 5556132 [62]

Soloist Mathias Rochat writes that he had been considering transcribing one of CPE Bach’s cello concertos for viola for some time. He suggests that the B-flat works best for his instrument, which is unfortunate since it is the least impressive of the three by some margin, in my opinion. The other two are much more typical of Emanuel’s Sturm und Drang style, dramatic and exciting. By contrast, the B-flat is genteel, polite and frankly a bit dull. Unfortunately, when adapted for the viola, with its reduced tonal and timbral range, compared to the cello, it becomes even more so. I listened to some recordings of the concerto in its original format, and identified a few where the orchestra’s accompaniment had given proceedings a little more oomph.

Johann Gottlieb Graun is much less well-known than CPE Bach, but both spent a considerable amount of their careers in the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Graun was a virtuoso on the viola da gamba, which was being superseded around that time by the cello. A Concertante for violin and viola brings to mind Mozart’s, one of the greatest works of the canon of Western music. Sadly, Graun’s is barely worth mentioning in the same paragraph. Substantial in length at over twenty-three minutes, but insubstantial in anything particularly memorable. The best (or, to be somewhat cruel, the least worst) of the three works is Graun’s concerto. It has some good moments melodically, and more energy than the other two.

The performers play well enough, though as I remarked earlier, I felt there could have been a little more verve in the orchestral accompaniment to help hide the lack of inspiration in the solo writing. Mathias Rochat produces a very fine tone from his instrument, but the viola’s limitations are rather exposed by these works.

One puzzle from the documentation: both Graun works are given the GraunWV catalogue number of A:XIII:3. Looking at the list of his works on IMSLP, I see this number for the Concertante, but can’t see any sign of the Concerto. What is evident is that all the listed works have different numbers.

So, sadly, a rather underwhelming experience. No, I wasn’t expecting something groundbreaking, but the music was rather bland, and not enlivened by the performances.

David Barker

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